AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Police dogs and their handlers have a special bond. They work together all day and usually live together. But in many places, like Texas, the dogs have long been considered government property by law, which means that once the dogs retired, they were supposed to be destroyed or auctioned off. I say were because thanks to Proposition 10, which passed with overwhelming support this week, that is no longer true in Texas. Police dogs now get to retire with their handlers or be adopted.
Joining us now is Chase Karacostas. He's a reporter with The Texas Tribune, and he did a deep dive on this law. Welcome.
CHASE KARACOSTAS: Hey.
CHANG: So tell me a little bit about how the old law in the state Constitution would work. It would mean that once a dog retired, it would have to be either euthanized or just given up to somebody outside of the force.
KARACOSTAS: So generally, they have about a five- to eight-year working life. They start whenever they're 1 to 2. And then they would retire when they're, like, 8 to 10. And the old law, the way it was set up, is to basically prevent abuse of government property. And it was written really broadly, so it could imply to law enforcement. It could apply to counties. It could apply to cities. It could apply to the state government, anything like - anything that could be considered government property. They just didn't want, like, people basically taking government property home and then using it for themselves.
CHANG: Right, like the gun the officer used while...
CHANG: ...In service or the uniform...
CHANG: ...Et cetera.
KARACOSTAS: But dogs just kind of got clumped into this because dogs are considered to be property under most state and federal laws.
CHANG: Tell me about the push to get this proposition on the ballot. The way I understand it, it started with a Collin County sheriff named Jim Skinner, who had long worked with dogs, even back when he was in the Air Force.
KARACOSTAS: Yeah. So Jim Skinner was a canine handler back in the Air Force in the late '70s and early '80s. He was working in the Philippines. And the dog that he was with was actually getting up there in age, and so he knew that it wasn't going to be passed on to another handler, most likely. And so he extended his tour several times so that he could stay with his dog, whose name was Jessie.
CHANG: Just to stay with his dog, he kept adding...
CHANG: ...To his tour (laughter).
KARACOSTAS: Yes. And then fast forward 40-ish years later, he becomes the sheriff of Collin County. They needed to retire a couple dogs. They found out about these issues in the law. And so they went to their local lawmakers and were like, can you help us?
CHANG: I love it. And so this measure passed by an overwhelming margin - something like 93%, right?
CHANG: I'm curious - who were the holdouts? I mean, what were the arguments against this proposition?
KARACOSTAS: I literally don't know.
KARACOSTAS: There was not a single vote in either house against it. So I have no idea. Who knows?
CHANG: Well, now that it's passed, it's a done deal. So if a police dog retires, where does that dog go? Is it up to the officer who works with the dog?
KARACOSTAS: The final decision will be made by the supervisor for whatever agency it is. So it would be something that, like, the sheriff would probably be involved in. But generally, the first choice is going to be the handler. And then there's also provisions that allow, like, if the handler was injured, he can take the dog home with him. If he dies, the dog can go to his family. And so there's other provisions that ensure that these dogs are taken care of no matter what.
CHANG: Well, I love it.
Chase Karacostas is a reporter with The Texas Tribune. Thanks so much for joining us today.
KARACOSTAS: For sure.
(SOUNDBITE OF MILLIONYOUNG SONG, "LOVIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.